Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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Teacher's Corner
College Classroom Activities

Class Discussion of Affirmative Action


To help students reach an accurate understanding of affirmative action and equal opportunity policies.


Ask students to read Ten Myths About Affirmative Action before the next class period.


Hold a class discussion that covers the following questions:

  1. Who can describe what affirmative action is?

  2. What's the difference between equal opportunity and affirmative action policies? (Answer: Equal opportunity pledges nondiscrimination, whereas affirmative action involves an effort to level the playing field.)

  3. Is affirmative action a form of reverse discrimination?

  4. Do you support affirmative action? Why or why not?

  5. Are there any ways that affirmative action can be improved?

  6. If you support affirmative action, should it be continued forever or discontinued at some point?

  7. Suppose our department had an opening for a new professor, and I mentioned it to a friend of mine on the job market -- would that be a discriminatory thing to do?

  8. What if my friend were a White male -- would that be discriminatory?

  9. What if my friend were a woman of color -- would that be affirmative action?

  10. Should affirmative action include people who have not suffered injustice in this country, such as new immigrants?

  11. How successful has affirmative action been in correcting inequalities?

  12. Is affirmative action best administered according to the degree of inequity? If so, which groups should come first?

  13. How should schools and employers choose between an African-American male job candidate and a White female job candidate?

  14. Should affirmative action be continued for groups after they've reached parity (e.g., Asian students who are equal to or ahead of Whites)?

  15. If an institution wants to increase intellectual diversity, is it reasonable to use race and gender as markers for how people think, or does that just perpetuate racial and gender stereotypes?


Except for questions #7-9, this activity can also be conducted in small-group discussions by splitting the class into 4-5 person groups and reconvening to hold a brief full-class discussion on any interesting issues and insights that emerged.


  1. Affirmative action policies vary by country, so instructors may need to adapt this activity for use in their country.

  2. A very useful article that might be assigned on the goals of affirmative action is:

    Amirkhan, J., Betancourt, H., Graham, S., López, S. R., & Weiner, B. (2003). Reflections of affirmative action goals in psychology admissions. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 197-202). New York: McGraw-Hill.